Rating: Put it on your list
Level: Quick, easy read
Huxley’s most famous book is set in a dystopian world roughly 600 years in the future; puns abound as the time is known as the Year of Our Ford, a reference to Henry Ford and the roll out of the Model T (all crosses at churches are cut to a ‘T’ and Ford is a used as a swear). The book explores eugenics as were feared by some at the time of the right (1932), including forced sterilization; strict classes separation for the sake of ‘order’; ‘sleep-learning’ and classical conditioning; open sexual ‘freedom’; and most famously, self medication with high power psychopharmaceuticals, in the book known as ‘Soma’.
The book is famous enough I won’t spend any more time on the summary, but will note that it somewhat kicked off an era of in which some of the most famous dystopain books of the 20th century were written. Most notability, within 20 years both 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 were written. Both Brave New World and 1984 are widely considered two of the best books of the 20th century (though I find 451 more frighteningly accurate).
This book is most famously contrasted with 1984, so I will get that out of the way, as the offer two competing views about books and our free time. In 1984, the government bans book, in Brave New World, there is no need. We have TVs (though hilariously viewed from his time as small and black and white), special entertainment complexes after work, orgies, and of course, Soma. Huxley’s view of the future had us seeking our own pleasure as the reason for our undoing.
Along with technological issues, the other surprising thing to the modern reader might be his fear of the breakdown of the family. My copy was published in 1946 and in his forward he writes that he has heard there are parts of the US where the divorce rate is pushing 50%, of course we are now roughly that as a nation. As someone born in the 80s, after the sexual revolution and the advent of the no-fault divorce, this fear of his seems quaint and almost strange. Additionally, in the forward, he reflects that he set his world in the distance future, but feared we’d be closer to it by the end of the century. The sex didn’t get quite as crazy (mostly due to his fear of what would happen with minors) as he thought, and eugenics has (mostly) fallen away, but he was correct on some level as far as conditioning goes. Though, in our current world, the conditioning comes from media and our consumerist culture than it does from government ‘learning centers’ and schools. What he did nail was ‘Soma’, the explosion of pills lit up in the 90’s, 60 years after the writing of the book, not 600 (Xanax was released in 1981, less than 50 years out).
He (obviously) didn’t get everything correct, but many of the overall issues are still with us today, especially the way we are conditioned, often without knowing it. The writing is good, maybe not as quick and clear as it could be, but overall this is an easy and entertaining read. If you are a fan of dystopian literature, this is a must read. For everyone else, I think you need to put this on your list, if for nothing else than it’s cultural impact and significance. I think it is always fascinating to look at what those in past thought the future would be like.